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Ancient History
The following are excerpts from The Thaumaturgists' Travelling Tales, a new compilation of essays edited and produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Thaumaturgy. Available Fall 2064 in finer lore stores everywhere.


The Quest for Knowledge

...I opened my eyes, and found my ka in the desert of antiquity, pale sands as fine as dust and yellowed as powdered bone or aged scroll as far as could be seen, pooling about my ankles in the breeze. I was alone, unkempt and naked save for the scarab-amulet upon my breast, and the seal-ring upon my right hand.

There was no sky, but a twilight lit by ancient stars. With no marker nor sign, I started my journey forward on foot. I walked the gulf between worlds in that nowhere place, and my mind wandered. I contemplated the vast reaches, the endless, maddening expanse of the eternal sky and endless land. When I had all but lost myself in the depths of thought, I stopped my endless and pointless journey. Before me, the sand receeded like water, to reveal a rough-cut grave, occupied by a blackened, brittle dead thing.

The smell came to me, the dust of tombs and slow rot, the heavy odor of spices and niter. Salt and dust upon the breeze, coated my throat and I coughed. As the tears ran down my eyes, the corpse moved. Brittle paper-skin cracked and split, dead bones cracked and crumbled and stood, tired jerky-bits of meat hanging from unused limbs. A caricature of my own face looked back at me. Empty orbits taught with dead flesh.

"Greetings, my son. Why stand you here, in this dead place? Go now, flesh of my flesh, or stay and become a dead thing."

It maddened him, that the voice should be the same as his harsh but loving father. That he should be here...but this was a trick. There was always some resistance. Always an obstacle to overcome. Only truth would serve him here.

"I come for a secret, father."

"There are no secrets here, my son. The dead have no secrets. Go now, blood of my blood, or stay and join the death of long ages."

"I come for a secret, father, and I will not be denied."

"Foolish son. There are no secrets here, not even that of death. Go now, bone of my bone, or stay and join the death of long ages."

"I came for a secret, father, and I will not die to gain it."

Abruptly, I found myself sweating, staring into the empty eyes of my father's corpse, dried by the desert. I was as stubborn as the old man in life, and I would not settle for mere philosophy here.

The dead thing acknowledged him with a throaty chuckle, so familiar.

"Obstinate son. What secret do you desire?"

A scarab chose that moment to crawl across my foot, rolling a ball of dung. I stooped to pick it up. My eyes caught on the inky sheen of it's shell.

"An interesting choice, my son. Is that what you desire, the secret of the beetle? Is that your desire, to be like them, in all their strength and power?"

Across the twilight sky, a great beetle rolled the sun, a ball of cosmic flame, across the horizon. I watched it for a time, awed. It would be so natural. The scarab is so important to our history, to my magic. My amulet burned against my skin. With a thought, the invisible flame where it touched my skin flared once and was gone. Then set the scarab back down.

"The beetle, the eater of the dead, is not my way father. I wish for a different knowledge, a secret of ahku."

The thin corpse-lips did not move, but appeared now to frame a rictus smile. Again the smell assailed me, now of drying blood and ancient rot.

"Sorcery, my son? Would you learn the names of blood and gain power from it? There are more ancient rites than those of Egypt. The oldest ones, where the sons would consume their father, a feast of the dead...would you consume my flesh, and be blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh?"

A withered limb cracked and extended toward me. The odor of meat and blood came from it. My stomach gurgled, and for all the world the dessicated flesh looked like nothing more than jerky, simple jerky...the temptation ate at me. Unbidden, I recalled the rituals for preparing the corpses of the dead, the rites of mummifcation. The judgement of the dead, where the hearts were removed and weighed. Hate and revulsion ate at me. I struck his hand away. Where my ring touched the corpse, a tear opened in the skin. Grains of multicolored sand spilled gently out.

"Ungrateful son. You have desired secrets that are not here, and rudely refused those I have offered to share with you. When you were a boy, I would beat you to put you in your place, and if I must I will do so again now!"

The dead thing reached into his chest, through a hole where his heart had been removed by Anubis and weighed upon a scale of Ma'at. It removed the belt.

That damn belt. It had been my horror for half my life. A relic of another era, thick hand-tooled black leather with iron buckle. Sometimes it would slash like a whip, and among the welts I'd receive would be shallow, bleeding cuts. A breeze blew across the scars on my bare back and buttocks. I shiverred.

It attacked with the belt, and once more in my life I felt the pain as it slashed my flesh. But I did not strike back. I chanted a prayer he had taught me on his knee, an old, old Coptic chant. The blows continued to fall, but this was no mere mortification of the flesh. My ka was pitted against my father's, each blow gave me a spiritual scar to match my physical one. Each phantom pain the memory of my father's beatings.

But every syllable of my prayer lessened his blows. Soon, they ceased to come all together. The wind ripped about me, as though in a storm, until the form of my father's corpse was lost. Sand blasted me, grit working into the corner of my eyes and trying to choke my mouth as I chanted, spitting sand-choked saliva with each Coptic syllable. Abruptly, the sandstorm slackened and died.

Before me lay a block of yellowed limestone, sitting in a desert of fine bone-colored sand under an empty, twilight sky. The stone could have come from any of the great pyramids, or a dozen lesser ones besides. Upon it was a single scroll, a sheef of yellowed papyri. My heart leapt as my eyes saw the ancient cursive script of the Egyptian mages, interrupted by the odd, formal heiroglyph of ages past. The scroll crackled but did not break in my dusty hands. It was dry and dead as tombs.
A scroll of Thoth. A secret of the dead, in the place of the dead.

I read and learned the precious secret I had sought.
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Ancient History
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